Trump threatens to pull tax exemption for schools, colleges

Trump had mostly focused his efforts on reopening elementary and secondary schools as millions of parents wait to find out if their children will be in school this fall. (File/AFP)
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Updated 11 July 2020

Trump threatens to pull tax exemption for schools, colleges

  • The Republican president did not explain what prompted the remark or which schools would be reviewed
  • It’s unclear on what grounds Trump could have a school’s tax-exempt status terminated

In his push to get schools and colleges to reopen this fall, President Donald Trump is again taking aim at their finances, this time threatening their tax-exempt status.
Trump said on Twitter on Friday he was ordering the Treasury Department to re-examine the tax-exempt status of schools that he says provide “radical indoctrination” instead of education.
“Too many Universities and School Systems are about Radical Left Indoctrination, not Education,” he tweeted. “Therefore, I am telling the Treasury Department to re-examine their Tax-Exempt Status and/or Funding, which will be taken away if this Propaganda or Act Against Public Policy continues. Our children must be Educated, not Indoctrinated!”
The Republican president did not explain what prompted the remark or which schools would be reviewed. But the threat is just one more that Trump has issued against schools as he ratchets up pressure to get them to open this fall. Twice this week Trump threatened to cut federal funding for schools that don’t reopen, including in an earlier tweet on Friday.
It’s unclear, however, on what grounds Trump could have a school’s tax-exempt status terminated. It was also not clear what Trump meant by “radical indoctrination” or who would decide what type of activity that includes. The White House and Treasury Department did not immediately comment on the president’s message.
Previous guidance from the Internal Revenue Service lays out six types of activities that can jeopardize a nonprofit organization’s tax-exempt status, including political activity, lobbying and straying from the organization’s stated purpose.
But ideology is not on the IRS’s list, said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, which represents university presidents. Any review of a school’s status would have to follow previously established guidelines, he said.
“It’s always deeply troubling to have the president single out schools, colleges or universities in a tweet,” Hartle said. “Having said that, I don’t think anything will come of this quickly.”
In his latest threat, Trump revived his oft-repeated claim that universities are bastions of liberalism that stifle conservative ideas. He used the same argument last year when he issued an executive order telling colleges to ensure free speech on campuses or lose federal research funding.
His interest in colleges’ finances appears to have been renewed as several schools sue the Trump administration over new restrictions on international students. Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued to block the policy earlier this week, followed by Johns Hopkins University on Friday. The University of California system has said it also plans to sue.
The universities are challenging new guidance issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement saying international students cannot stay in the US if they take all their classes online this fall. The policy has been viewed as an attempt to force the nation’s universities to resume classroom instruction this fall.
Under the rules, international students must transfer schools or leave the country if their colleges plan to hold instruction entirely online. Even if their schools offer a mix of online and in-person classes, foreign students would be forbidden from taking all their courses remotely.
The lawsuit from Harvard and MIT argue that the policy breaks from a promise ICE made in March to suspend limits around online education “for the duration of the emergency.”
Until Friday, Trump had mostly focused his efforts on reopening elementary and secondary schools as millions of parents wait to find out if their children will be in school this fall. He has insisted that they can open safely, and in a Friday tweet argued that virtual learning has been “terrible” compared with in-person instruction.
“Not even close! Schools must be open in the Fall. If not open, why would the Federal Government give Funding? It won’t!!!” he wrote. Trump issued a similar warning on Twitter on Wednesday, saying other nations had successfully opened schools and that a fall reopening is “important for the children and families. May cut off funding if not open!”
Trump has not said what funding he would withhold or under what authority. But White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany has said the president wants to use future coronavirus relief funding as leverage. McEnany said Trump wants to “substantially bump up money for education” in the next relief package, but only for schools that reopen.
“He is looking at potentially redirecting that to make sure it goes to the student,” McEnany said at a Wednesday press briefing. She added that the funding would be “tied to the student and not to a district where schools are closed.”
But Trump’s control over school funding is limited. The vast majority of funding for public elementary and secondary schools comes from state and local sources, and nonprofit colleges are more likely to rely on tuition or state aid than federal money.
His threats to withhold funding have been denounced by a growing array of education and health groups, including a medical association that the White House has repeatedly cited in its press to reopen schools.
In a joint statement with national education unions and a superintendents group, the American Academy of Pediatrics on Friday said decisions should be made by health experts and local leaders. The groups argued that schools will need more money to reopen safely during the coronavirus pandemic and that cuts could ultimately harm students.
“Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics,” the groups wrote. “Withholding funding from schools that do not open in person full-time would be a misguided approach, putting already financially strapped schools in an impossible position that would threaten the health of students and teachers.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics has supported a fall reopening, saying in June guidelines that schools should strive to start the academic year with their students “physically present in school.” Vice President Mike Pence, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and McEnany have repeatedly, and as recently as Wednesday, cited the group in defense of Trump’s approach.
But Friday’s statement acknowledged that it may be best for some schools to stay online. School leaders, health experts, teachers and parents should be at the center of reopening decisions, the groups said, “taking into account the spread of COVID-19 in their communities and the capacities of school districts to adapt safety protocols to make in-person learning safe and feasible.”
Some districts have already announced plans for only a partial reopening, with a mix of in-person and online instruction. New York City’s public school district, the nation’s largest, said students will be in classrooms two or three times a week and learn remotely between. DeVos has opposed that kind of approach, saying it fails students and taxpayers.


Priest who shared stage with Modi tests positive; India sees record number of cases

Updated 13 August 2020

Priest who shared stage with Modi tests positive; India sees record number of cases

  • Nritya Gopal Das, an 82-year-old Hindu priest, was the latest public figure to test positive
  • Television footage showed Modi holding Das’ hands and bowing before him

LUCKNOW, India: India reported another record jump in its surging coronavirus cases on Thursday with nearly 67,000 new infections, among them a religious leader who shared a stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a ceremony to launch construction of a grand temple.
Nritya Gopal Das, an 82-year-old Hindu priest, was the latest public figure to test positive after a string of Modi’s top cabinet colleagues were stricken with COVID-19, including interior minister Amit Shah.
With Thursday’s jump of 66,999 cases India now has nearly 2.4 million infections, according to the Health Ministry, behind only the United States and Brazil. For the last fortnight, it has been reporting 50,000 cases or more each day as it opens up the country after a months-long lockdown. Its COVID-19 death toll stands at 47,033.
Modi and Das were among 170 people who attended the Aug. 5 launch of the temple construction in the northern town of Ayodhya.
Dr. Murli Singh, director of information in Ayodhya, said Das had tested positive and was being moved to a hospital near Delhi. But he added that at the time of the ceremony the priest tested negative and so had not posed an infection risk to Modi.
Television footage showed Modi held Das’ hands and bowed before him. Modi’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Singh said people invited for the launch were all clear of the virus at the time.
“Guidelines were sent to all that only COVID-19 negative people will be allowed in the ceremony,” he said, adding doctors on the ground in Ayodhya had run tests before the event started.
The planned temple at Ayodhya is on a disputed site where Hindu groups have campaigned for decades.
Separately on Wednesday, a government committee said that the country would utilize its large vaccine manufacturing capacity to urgently deliver any potential COVID-19 vaccine to its neighbors and low-income countries.